Greece's biggest tech-house star discusses his Material label, his relationship with Green Velvet and, of course, last year's plagiarism controversy...
There's no denying that Greek producer Mihalis Safras is something of a controversial figure in dance music circles. But that certainly doesn't seem to be holding his career back any.
For those that have just wandered in, let's have a quick recap. Late last year, UK tech-house producer Tennan (George Georgiadis) accused Safras of plagiarising a track Tennan had sent him as a demo and releasing it under his own name on Material Series, the label he co-owns with Mark Broom. After Tennan posted about this on social media, Spanish producer German Brigante and Bulgaria's Metodi Hristov came forward with similar accusations.
It was, without a doubt, a serious reputational blow for the man who'd been named Beatport's tech-house producer of 2015, and come third in the same poll the following year. At the time, Safras's management responded with a statement that read in part, "Mihalis understands and accepts that there have been mistakes and misjudgements made after looking closely at what´s happened, and he is now putting measures in place to avoid any further malpractice."
That wasn't enough for some, though, and things began to get seriously out of hand, with Safras reportedly receiving death threats - surely a gross over-reaction in anyone's book, though to the community's credit, when word of those threats emerged the situation did rapidly cool off.
But that was then, this is now, and right now Safras seems to be well and truly back in the saddle. In March this year his Green Velvet collaboration Shmash came out on Relief, followed by another, Sauce, in May. A third Green Velvet collab, Pez, has just been released, while other recent releases include a full solo EP on sister label Cajual, as well as the Don EP on the UK's Kaluki Music.
So what's it like being Mihalis Safras in 2018? There's only one way to find out...
You really rose to international fame after you set up Material Series with Mark Broom in the mid-00s. How did you two first meet, and what inspired you to set up a label together?
"I've been producing since 2002, but after my first vinyl was out in 2006 I got hooked up with Mark Broom (known from his King Of The Snakes label). Mark had always been one of my favourite producers: he has a really solid sound and everything he makes is always banging. So we did few tunes together and came up with the idea to start Material after about six months of working together. From that moment until the present day he has been one of my best friends in the industry - Mark always keeps it real!"
You've also released on some of the best known labels around, including Relief, Saved, Snatch!, Hot Creations, Suara, Nite Grooves, Toolroom Trax, etc. Is getting your music onto as many labels as possible a good strategy for aspiring producers do you think - or is there any other reason why you've spread the love so widely?
"Nowadays the music industry is based on strategies: it's something I have seen very clearly lately. So each producer needs to build their own strategy on how their music will be presented to an audience - which label they need to release on in order to reach that audience.
"In the past I haven't really been very strategic as I preferred to make various different styles of music, whether that's groovier, deeper, more techno-focused etc. However recently I decided to focus on what I really like myself, and be more strategic and selective about the labels I work with. As ever though, the key is to work hard and love what you do."
Is there any one particular release in that extensive discography that you could point to and say you're most proud of?
"I've released close to 100 vinyl records over the years so it's a really difficult thing to narrow it down to a single one. Two real highlights though would be the very first Material vinyl, or my track Interfarica, which Sven Väth featured as No 1 in his charts for months around its release. Both are very proud moments for me."
You've had recent releases on Relief, Cajual and Kaluki, can you talk us through those?
"After the collaborations with Green Velvet my release schedule is packed. In June I had a single on Cajual named Chako EP and then four weeks later my first single on Kaluki. I think both of them have that Ibiza vibe, with catchy vocals and hooks that I think people will really dig. Then mid-July expect some serious techno in an all-new collaboration again between myself and Green Velvet. It's hard for me to describe my own records more than that: let the music speak, right?"
The relationship with Relief/Cajual/Green Velvet seems particularly strong - what is it you like about working with Curtis and/or his labels?
"What's not to like? Green Velvet is an incredible person to know, both personally and professionally. For me he is more than a friend. Expect much more from us in the next years."
You're still based in Athens. What's the club scene like there these days, after the country's well-publicised economic woes?
"The scene in Greece is as it was always was. Fans go crazy when good events happen, because there are some nice venues but not a lot. Of course there's a lot of competition between the clubs, but that's to be expected as the scene is limited in size.
"On the other hand, there are a number of Greek producers that have reached a great level internationally - the highest in years, in my opinion - so I'm happy. All in all, I'm quite positive that the scene will thrive here soon enough. Always be positive!"
We have to ask about last year's plagiarism scandal. Without going into the ins and outs of the case, what was that like to live through - I read that at one point you received death threats!?
"I wouldn't use the word 'scandal', but then again I understand now how some things are translated into the internet. I think as time passes people get clever and will stay away from drama and allow music to speak for itself."
Do you find the current climate of Twitter spats and 'justice by social media' worrying? Seems a shame when DJs/producers are tearing each other apart in public…
"There are always two sides of the story. However social media doesn't leave much room for nuance: you're either or one side or the other. That is why whatever happens should be resolved between the persons involved. People love to hate, it's just the nature of humans. That's why personal relationships are the way forward for me: there's a lot more love in real life than online."
Six months down the line, has it set your career back any, or is that all done and dusted now? Did I read that you'd sold your interest in Material as a result?
"As usual, the reports that are all over the internet that have nothing to do with reality! Of course I did not sell Material - in fact the opposite, I hired a new management company to create a better and more professional label. We have new releases by Joeski, Volkoder, Harry Romero and Raffa FL coming up, but I expect I'll read somewhere that I sold the label and got thousands of Euros, or even that other producers for Material were producing for me now!
"In general, everything that happened was a big lesson for me. And now I've learned and moved on."
On a more positive note, what have you got coming up DJ-wise at the moment? If iDJ readers in the UK want to hear you play, will they get a chance to any time soon?
"Sure, although all the above were positive notes for me as it's good to talk about it! But for sure it's better to talk music, and luckily the diary is building. I guess the best opportunity for people to catch me in the UK is at Creamfields festival, with a lineup that I'm very happy to be included on."
Finally, what else is going on in Mihalis Safras's world right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"What's going on is pretty much 24/7 producing. I've been so inspired recently, and am producing some of the best music of my career I think. Luckily, all of the last three singles I put out went straight into the Beatport Top 10, so at least it seems people are agreeing with me!
"Thanks for the opportunity, and I hope iDJ readers are enjoying the tunes."
Words: Russell Deeks
Mihalis Safras & Green Velvet's Pez is out now on Relief Records